Southwest seeks space at Reagan

Southwest Airlines is trying to secure the ability to fly in and out of Reagan National Airport, but inclusion at the Virginia airport appears unlikely without federal intervention.

The low-cost air carrier is trying to capitalize exchanges of take-off and landing slots – permissions needed from the federal government to operate at a given airport – between US Airways and Delta Airlines. In August, US Airways and Delta petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the carriers to trade slots at New York’s La Guardia Airport and Reagan National, but the FAA countered the two carriers’ proposal in February by saying it would approve the switch if Delta and US Airways gave up a combined 34 slots between the two airports, according to FAA documents.

Southwest has asked the FAA to auction off the 34 slots to the highest bidder – which it would likely be – but Delta and US Airways oppose that option, and have instead tried to individually divvy up those slots to various other carriers, like AirTran and Jet Blue. The FAA has not yet announced if it will require the slots to be auctioned.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Olga Romero said the airline opposes the Delta and US Airways slot-swap as originally proposed because it would hamper competition at La Guardia and Reagan.

“If this transaction were to go through as proposed, Delta would dominate [La Guardia] with 50 percent of the slots, and US Airways would dominate [Reagan National] with 57 percent of the slots. It would significantly reduce competition at both LGA and DCA,” Romero said.

But Brett Snyder, founder of the blog and travel Web site, said Delta and US Airways oppose the auction because they don’t want Southwest to gain access to Reagan.

“Neither US Airways nor Delta want to give up their slots to Southwest,” Snyder said. “Southwest is a very large, very tough competitor.”

Romero said DCA would be an integral part of Southwest serving the Washington Metropolitan area.

“Southwest has been exploring the opportunity to serve DCA one day. It would be a perfect complement to [Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport], and would allow us to reach new customers in the Washington Metropolitan area. However, just like LGA, Southwest cannot serve DCA without access to slots,” Romero said.

Even if Southwest were to fly out of Reagan, it would be unlikely to fly to nearly as many places as it does now from BWI, Snyder said.

“If they came in, they couldn’t create as large an operation as they have at Baltimore. They would have to do something, some flights to Chicago, maybe Florida. You’re not going to see major operation.”

As for reducing prices, Snyder said if Southwest began to use Reagan, there would be a strong possibility of cheaper flights to and from the airport because of the increased competition.

Some GW travelers said the chance of having the low-cost carrier closer to campus could be a huge help.

“I personally have only gone home twice because of the cost of airfare and I end up bouncing all over the United States to simply get home on a cheaper flight,” freshman Lee Almegard said. “It would be nice to have a cheaper option to fly. I know a lot of people who have tried to cut travel costs by flying in and out of either Dulles or Baltimore, but even then you’re adding travel costs and time.”

Because of Delta and US Airways’ reluctance, government regulations and complicated financial reasons, Snyder said it is unlikely Southwest will enter the Reagan market through this deal. However, Snyder said Southwest could get into Reagan at any time if it was willing to buy slots from another airline willing to sell them. He said he would not be surprised if Southwest found a different way to mosey into the airport.

“Could [the FAA] just create new slots? Theoretically they could, but the problem is it would start making the airport too crowded and everyone is going to be delayed, so they don’t want to start creating new spots for that purpose,” Snyder said.

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